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Yoga Take a Stretch and Mellow the Mind

Learn physical and mental exercises at the Westchase Recreation Center

The Downward Dog. The Seated Pigeon. The Cobra. These are a few examples of popular yoga stretches. Originating in India during the 6th and 5th centuries B.C., yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that employs measured breathing, focused internal meditation, and specific postures and stretches. As Yoga Special Interest Instructor Paula Levesque says, the benefits of yoga are numerous.

"An article from Yoga Alliance lists these top 10 reasons to try yoga," she said. "Stress relief, pain relief, better breathing, flexibility, increased strength, weight management, improved circulation, cardiovascular conditioning, improved concentration, and inner peace - a deeper satisfaction with life."

Levesque teaches yoga every Thursday morning at Hillsborough County's Westchase Park & Recreation Center. She warms up the class with some deep breathing techniques, and then guides her students to slowly move their heads side to side to help relax their neck muscles. She then transitions to leg stretches and standing poses, such as the Half Moon.

After the class is warmed up, Levesque proceeds with the Warrior I, Warrior II, and the Tree balancing poses.

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Yoga Warrior Pose

"Tree is done standing on one leg, with the foot of the opposite leg against the calf or thigh; arms are raised above the head," she said. "Students can do this pose with the support of the wall, too."

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Yoga Tree Pose

Next comes the mat work, where she guides the class to conduct reclining stretches for the legs, hips, and hamstrings, such as the Bridge stretch . She then guides her class through the Savasana pose for five to 10 minutes, where the students lie on their backs with their legs spread and eyes closed while taking slow, deep breaths, being aware of their chests and abdomens as they rise and fall with each breath.

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Yoga Bridge Pose

Levesque says that teaching at the Westchase Recreation Center has been a wonderful experience. "The Staff at Westchase is so easy to work with. They are very gracious and open to having me at the center," she said. "Not only have I had acceptance from a wide range of students, but I have been embraced by a select group of seniors who do chair yoga."

When doing stretches at work, it is important to begin slowly. Levesque said that people working in an office environment can perform yoga poses in a chair. One such pose is the Cat-Cow , which arches the back, while the Seated Pigeon relieves the hip muscles.

For individuals who stand up all day, Levesque recommends her favorite pose: Legs Up the Wall , if the work environment permits. This technique involves lying down on the floor, putting your legs up right against a wall, and maintaining that position for 5 to 10 minutes.

Find County locations that offer yoga.

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